Implications of creating new provinces

Map of Pakistan


1)      Introduction to a federation
i)                    Comprises of federating units
ii)                   Share resources and power
iii)                 Equal representation in national forums
iv)                 Pakistani version of federalism

2)      Tussle between entities
i)                    Larger provinces create hegemony
ii)                   Smaller units are usurped of their powers
iii)                 Ethnic conflicts in provinces
iv)                 Violence
v)                  The disintegration of state e.g. the formation of Bangladesh.

3)      Worldwide practices of creating new provinces to deal with the situation
i)                    Example of India, Nigeria, and America
ii)                   Did it help in the stability of the state?

4)      Demand of provinces in Pakistan
i)                    Political slogans
ii)                   Genuine grievances
iii)                 Under-representation of small ethnicities
iv)                 Areas far from provincial capitals
v)                  Opting for more development, jobs.
vi)                 Ethnic tension
5)      Implications of provinces
i)                    Disintegration of state, an example is that of East Pakistan
ii)                   Ethnic rivalry
iii)                 Political tussle
iv)                 More provinces necessarily do not solve problems; Afghan case
v)                  Problem of infrastructure
vi)                 Problem of state apparatus
vii)               Problem of NFC award
viii)              Division problems
ix)                 Non-stoppable demand.

6)      How to cope with the issue?
i)                    Administrative units
ii)                   Local bodies as alternative
iii)                 Provincial autonomy

7)      Conclusion.

Federation is a form of government held together by a constitution with self-governed units. Most of the powers lie with the federating units but powers related to the national sovereignty, security and other such sensitive areas use to be in the domain of the central government.  In a federation, the federating units elect their own representatives to make laws and to safeguard the interests of the unit. Constitutionally, Pakistan has a federal form of government with units being sovereign in their internal matters but with a highly centralized system. This makes our system peculiar compared to other federating states.

The Pakistani version of federalism has created ethnic and provincial tensions because of the dominance of one province in the state machinery. Punjab forms the majority of the population with 58% followed distantly by other provinces.  This dominance of a single province has given rise to the feeling of inferiority complex among the poor provinces. The suspicion of smaller provinces over Punjabi dominance is quite evident from their stance regarding China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Kalabagh dam. Smaller provinces are demanding more autonomy and ethnic groups within each province are demanding the formation of new provinces to gain greater administrative rights. This ethnic rift also makes a bleak part of our history in the form of the disintegration of Bangladesh from Pakistan.

This ethnic rivalry and demand for provinces are not limited to the state of Pakistan rather other countries in the region and in the world are and were also facing the same situation. Indian under public pressure has further subdivided the provinces into more administrative units. Currently, India has 29 states along with 7 union territories where Delhi and Puducherry have elected governments whereas the remaining five are under the direct control of federal government. Similarly, Nigeria has also broken federating units into smaller sub-units. There are 36 states and 1 federal territory in Nigeria.

America, the biggest military, and economic power has 50 states.  This shows that these countries have dealt with the problem of under-presentation by diving units into smaller sub-units to give each ethnic group complete representation in the state apparatus. Nigeria was also going through the same situation with political dominance of one ethnic group, Hausa-Fulani. After the division, this tension has to come to an end to a large extent.

In Pakistan, the demand for new provinces has many dimensions; some political parties and groups use it for mere sloganeering to garner support for elections.  In some places, the ethnic tension between communities also makes it a big issue to deal with.  This is evident in the urban centers of Sindh where Mujahir and Sindhi-speaking community are in a political tussle with each other and this sometimes leads to violent confrontation. We can also hear faint but genuine voices from the Pashto-speaking belt of Baluchistan and Hindko-speaking Hazaras of KP province.

Some political parties are fueling the fire by raising these issues, again and again, to further widen differences between the communities just to get political leverage. This Political game is a part of the democratic system but the genuine grievances cannot be ignored too. Most of the areas where this campaign is going on are under-developed and far from the provincial capitals and big cities. Local people in the remote areas need roads, jobs, better facilities of life and easy access to the provincial capitals for administrative purpose. The unavailability of these facilities gives rise to the popular demand of formation of federating units.

The formation of new provinces, on one hand, can prove to be helpful in the devolution of power to the public but on the other hand can become a hazard for the national integrity.  The campaign for Mujahir province in Sindh, the Pashtun province of Baluchistan, Saraiki province in Punjab and Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are purely ethnic in nature. The formation of these provinces on linguistic lines will sow the seeds of hatred among the people as we have experience in history.

Before 1971, the two wings of our country were suspicious of each other and this suspicion ultimately turned into ethnic tensions resulting in the disintegration of Pakistan into two pieces. Careful analysis of the present situation is needed to counter-politics of hatred and provincialism. The other threat is the limitation of major political parties to certain areas, which will be harmful for the federation because central political parties are the sources of gluing together of the nation.

Further subdivision of the provinces requires new infrastructure to be built; the construction and formation of high courts, the formation of paramilitary force and new administrative structures to help the provincial government in carrying out their job. This is not an easy task at all; this will give rise to more conflicts and an ultimate non-stoppable demand for new provinces. For example, some people are now arguing that there should be a province in Potohar province in Punjab and the demand for new provinces increasing day by day, this can prove to be tragic for national integration.

Allocation of National Finance Commission award is also a major challenge to cope with. The subdivision of provinces will further complicate the already complex problem of division of resources among provinces. New provinces will demand more resources in the NFC award and will create contempt in hearts.  The delimitation process and the water issue will also be a major bone of contention. Furthermore, new provinces will have to be given representation in the Senate on equality basis.

The other thing to be remembered is that formation of new provinces may not solve the problems. Our neighboring Afghanistan has 32 provinces of which majority are on ethnic lines but still, we see the problem of ethnic hatred and violence. In fact, Afghanistan is the worst effect countries in terms of ethnic violence. This is evident from the current in which some ethnicities are supporting the presence of American troops whereas others are fighting a full-scale war against them. This shows the subdivision may not necessarily solve the problems; other factors count too.

The grievances of common people can be dealt in many other ways as well; Provincial autonomy is the best solution to provide. The federal government should devolve power to the provinces in order to give them the sense of importance and responsibility. Another one is the formation of administrative units on the level of divisions or even districts, which will give powers to the locals. The local government system introduced in 2001 by Musharraf regime can be applied with some constitutional and administrative changes. The formation of these democracies at the basic level will give people the sense of autonomy and authority.

The formation of new provinces to empower local people is not a bad idea but the carrying out of this must be handled very clearly and with political acute. Any undue politicisation of this issue can add fuel to the fire as evident in the formation of Bangladesh due to ethnic tensions and misconceptions. The best solution will be to form new provinces but only on administrative.  It is time for us to think whether we want to keep this nation united or to increase the polarisation of provinces.

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About Muhammad Asim

Muhammad Asim is a passionate blogger and the founder and editor of the
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